Even though a popular tourist destination, when planning a trip to Italy, there are several things to keep in mind, especially if it’s your first time. Our extensive Italy travel guide will cover the most important steps to organize the trip.
From how to get to Italy, to how to get around to a detailed cost breakdown, here, this is a complete checklist that allows you to start planning right away.
Being a very tourist-friendly country, the planning process is pretty straightforward. But like for every trip out of your comfort zone, careful preparation will make things easier and smoother once you are here. Find here all you need to know before traveling to Italy.
Travel Guide To Italy – What To Know Before Planning Your Italy Trip
What do you need to know before traveling to Italy? Apart from basic facts like currency and how to apply for a visa, we suggest you start booking hotels and transportation in advance to find better prices and more places. This is particularly important if you are traveling in the high season.
With our Italy travel guide, we give you the tools to organize a trip on your own. But if you’d rather sit and relax and delegate all things logistics, below you will find also a choice of the best companies for top Italy tours, including Italy bike tours and Italy food tours, both complete packages and day trips.
- Language: Italian plus German and French in some regions and local dialects that change depending on cities, towns, and small villages.
- Population: Around 60 million according to 2019 stats.
- Size: 331.338 km².
- Government: Republic, EU member, Schengen area.
- Currency: Euro.
- Borders: France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino, Vatican.
- Regions: 20.
How To Get To Italy
The most common way to reach Italy is by far by plane. All airlines fly to Italy from all over the world, both flag carriers such as British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Air China, Air India, and low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air, RyanAir, EasyJet, Vueling.
Apart from the major international airports of Rome’s Fiumicino and Milan’s Malpensa, there are flights from other European hubs to Italian cities like Florence, Venice, Naples, Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia in Sardinia, Palermo and Catania in Sicily, Bologna and more.
You can reach Italy by railway both with day and night trains from several European countries such as Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and with a few changes and connections also to cities in Spain and Eastern Europe.
If you are on a train trip this is perfect, especially for slow travelers, because you can stop in several places and enjoy also cities originally not in your bucket list.
You can reach Italy also by ferry from different countries such as France, Greece and Spain. In the high season, meaning summer and close to Christmas, there certainly are more ferries and cruises, but you can book trips pretty much all year long.
Some of the main ferry companies are Grimaldi, Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV), and Tirrenia. You can reach Genoa from Barcelona with Grandi Navi Veloci, from several Greek cities you can reach Venice, Brindisi, Ancona, and Bari with companies like Blue Star Ferries, Superfast Ferries, and Fragline Ferries. Grimaldi and Tirrenia connect Italy also to Tunisi while Marmara Lines to Cesme in Turkey, Virtu Ferries connects Sicily to Malta and Jadrolinija connects Dubrovnik to Bari in Puglia, southern Italy.
Best Time To Visit Italy
Any time is good to visit Italy. Each season has its own perks. Summer is usually hot everywhere, so you might prefer to visit the coast and be close to the sea or a lake, or maybe being in the mountain where the air is fresh. Summer is also the most crowded season, so you will always need to queue to enter major landmarks. Obviously, it’s also the season when the weather is more stable and you will need o pack fewer clothes.
Fall and Spring are lovely seasons to visit the cities as they are not too crowded nor too hot or cold. Bot Fall and Spring can give you some shower, but then the nice weather comes back. Usually, Fall is rainier than April/May, which are among the best months to choose if you are booking a walking holiday in Italy.
Winter is the season for skiing, so Valle d’Aosta, Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige are pretty busy. However, in many Italian regions winter is quite mild and properly dressed, you can visit big cities and small towns without problems.
How To Get An Italian Visa
Italy is in the Schengen area, so if you are doing a European road trip and were granted a visa to another Schengen country, you can also visit Italy. If you are applying just for Italy, you need to check with the Italian embassy or consulate in your country to make sure what are the requirements and what documents you need to submit.
First of all, inquire if you need a visa because not all nationalities do. To find out if you do need a visa and what procedure you need to follow, answer the few easy questions on the Italy Foreign Ministry’s website. I always recommend checking with the local consulate in your country as the time it takes to issue the visa depends a lot on where you are located and also on your nationality.
How Long Should You Stay In Italy?
The duration of your Italy trip really depends on how much holidays you have, how much you want to visit and ultimately, also on your budget.
If it’s your first trip and you really want to visit all the major cities, I suggest no less than ten days. With ten days at your disposal, you would ideally be doing a Venice-Florence-Rome itinerary with no time for day trips. If you spend two weeks in Italy, it’s more likely that you can take some day trips from the main cities or include other places such as Naples or the Cinque Terre, also very touristy.
All a different matter is if it’s not your first time in Italy and you have already visited the main destinations. This way, you can even devote a week to a single region or a few days for a city break, especially if you live in another European country a few hours plane away.
How To Get Around Italy
If you are planning a road trip, you can rent a car wherever you land in Italy. With a navigator that is now included in many rental cars or even your Google Maps app, it will be easy to find your way. Around Italy, from a region/city to another, you will likely enter high-speed highways with a toll. Sardinia is the only region without highways. Although, the navigator will tell you when you are going to a paid highway and sometimes will also give you the option to choose a toll-free route.
Something you need to pay attention to is the ZTL (Limited Traffic Zone) imposed in many cities including Rome and Florence, but also small towns like Bracciano, near Rome. If you are renting a car, make sure you pick your hotel out of the ZTL because fines are pretty high. Some day and some hours, ZTL gates are open, so you can get through, but when they are closed, only authorized vehicles can. Check out the municipality website of each city you are driving to.
To rent a car in Italy, you need to be 23 or 25, depending on the agency, and extra-EU citizens also need an international license, which you can get in your home country.
If you’d rather not drive and visit mainly Italy’s biggest cities, traveling by train is easy and straightforward. The railway network in Italy is pretty widespread, especially going northward. Trains stop in all the big cities, most towns and also many smaller villages. If you are visiting smaller villages, chances are that you will need a car (or a tour) for the surroundings, unless you are interested in the village itself.
Traveling by train is easy also because from a city to the next, you will directly get to the historic center so ready for sightseeing. This will make it also possible to stay less in each place and still visit a lot.
Another way to travel around Italy is by plane. You can find most cities connected through the flag carrier Alitalia but also other regional airlines such as Meridiana for Sardinia, and low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet.
While traveling through railway is easy and can take you to many cities, if you are in the north and want to reach the south, a flight is the fastest way. Or also if you want to travel to Sardinia, you can either choose the ferry or the plane.
There are several flights every day from and to Rome Fiumicino, Milano Malpensa, and Milano Linate, being these among the biggest airports. But also airports like Cagliari-Elmas, Olbia-Costa Smeralda, Palermo, Venezia and Bologna are pretty busy.
The tickets are not too expensive and it applies the general rule that booking in advance you can find better offers and promotions. Sometimes it’s also possible to find last-minute offers and plan some detour from your original itinerary or add more places to visit.
This is probably the cheapest option but also a slow and, sometimes, limiting one. There are several extra-urban coaches that connect different cities and different regions. For example, you can book a bus from Rome to Sicily, but it will obviously take much longer than the plane and also the train.
Sita – www.sitabus.it (soprattutto per le tratte da Veneto, Toscana, Campania, Basilicata e Puglia), Arpa – www.arpaonline.it in Abruzzo, Sais – www.saistrasporti.it in Sicilia, Busweb – www.busweb.it, Saj – www.saj.it in Calabria, Marino – www.marinobus.it in Puglia e Basilicata, Arst in Sardegna, Sena – www.sena.it in Toscana, Autostradale – www.autostradale.it in Lombardia, Busitalia in Umbria.
To reach the islands you can opt for the ferry instead of the plane. Some of the companies operating the routes to and from Sardinia are Tirrenia, Grimaldi, GNV and Sardinia Ferries, with Tirrenia being the one that operates the whole year.
To reach Sicily, there are also Caronte & Tourist, Liberty Lines and TTTLines. You can reach Sicily from Cagliari, Civitavecchia, Naples, Salerno, Livorno, Reggio Calabria, Genoa.
The Italian ports from where you can board to reach Sardinia Civitavecchia near Rome, Livorno, Genoa, Naples and Palermo.
How Much Does A Holiday In Italy Cost? Expenses Breakdown
Your Italy trip doesn’t have to be expensive. The overall budget depends on many factors, such as the season, the places you want to visit, the type of hotel you want to book and the type of restaurants you want to try.
Ideally, a holiday in Rome would be more expensive than a trip to Sardinia. But this is not always the case. For example, if in Sardinia you are aiming at a 5-star resort in the exclusive Costa Smeralda, your holiday will certainly be more expensive than booking a guest house or an apartment in Rome, even those in the city center.
Here I’m going to do a costs breakdown for a typical trip to Italy of medium budget. Choosing a higher or lower lifestyle, will make your costs go up or down.
A very popular travel insurance is World Nomads. Their rates vary depending on the options, how long is the trip, and how many people are traveling. As per some examples, for 10 days in Italy for one 30-year-old traveler, the standard coverage costs about 75$, while for a 2-week Italy trip for a family of three with mother, father, and 4-year-old toddler, the standard coverage will be around 275$.
Transportation from the airport
This depends on where you land and where you are going from the airport. But since one of the most common airports is Rome’s Fiumicino, you can already take note of some 50/60 euro taxi fare to the city, while from Ciampino is a bit cheaper, around 30 euro. The price from the local airport to Florence is less than 25 euro, while in Milan, from Malpensa airport to the city is almost 100 euro.
Obviously, you can opt for public transportation, either train or coach, and it would be much cheaper. From Fiumicino to Roma Termini train station is 14 euro for the direct train called Leonardo Express, while if you want to get off at other minor stations, you can take the train to Ostiense that costs 8 euro and stops in stations such as Trastevere and Ostiense. Check out Omio for timetables and tickets.
Transportation around Italy
The costs of moving around in Italy vary according to your transportation choices. As mentioned above, the cheapest way to move around is by bus, but if you are short in time, this might not be ideal.
Train travel in Italy is not too expensive especially if you plan your trip, and purchase your tickets, in advance. As an example, a train ticket from Rome to Milan is about 80 euros if you buy it a couple of weeks in advance, while it can cost you some 100 euros if you purchase it the days before the journey.
The ticket from Rome to Florence costs around 40/45 euros. Sometimes you can also find offers for 25 euros. If you are interested in taking some day trips from Florence, tickets to Pisa, Siena or Lucca are all less than 10 euros. If you are going south, a trip to Naples from Rome is about 40 euro, and from Naples to reach Pompeii is around 4 euros. Prices change also depending on the season.
Renting a car is not necessarily more expensive but obviously you also need to consider the price of petrol. Check out Discover Cars for rates and promotions.
Depending on the city and on the season, your hotel rates will vary enormously. Booking in advance can make quite the difference and also choosing an apartment instead of a hotel can be much cheaper.
Cities like Florence and Venice are usually more expensive when it comes to accommodation, while smaller towns and lesser-visited regions like Marche or Basilicata offer less costly options.
To mention some examples of what we paid during our trips, in Florence, we booked a guesthouse we didn’t particularly love some half an hour walk from the historic center in May and we paid 62 euros per night for a double room. On our two-day trip to Milan, we booked and enjoyed Delle Nazioni Milan Hotel, very close to the main train station Stazione Centrale, and we paid 122 euros for two nights in June.
In Turin, we booked an apartment for 202 euros for 4 nights and we loved our stay there. Although it wasn’t in the city center, it was easy to reach by tram and the flat was comfortable and equipped with everything we needed.
When it comes to Sardinia, on the other hand, we stayed in Mamoiada, Nuoro province, for the Mamuthones festival and a B&B cost us 80 euro per night, while in Olbia in August, we paid 120 euro per night for a double room comprehensive of baby’s cot.
Apart from the city center of the major tourist destinations, especially Venice, eating in Italy is not too expensive. In average restaurants, a starter, a side dish and the dessert range around 5 to 6 euros, the first course of pasta or rice can be prices between 10 to 18 euros, while the main course is usually between 15 and 25 euros. Wines make the price go up whether you order a bottle or just a glass.
A sandwich (panino) in a bar or coffee shop is usually around 2 to 5 euros, a salad maximum of 10 euros. Sometimes you can also buy one of the always more popular Buddha bowls take-away for some 10 euros and have it in your hotel room.
Gelato can cost around 2 to 4 euros depending on how many scoops and what type of cone or cup you choose. High-quality artisan gelato is not more expensive than an industrial ice-cream, but the taste and experience are much different, so make sure you know what and where to buy yours.
What To Visit In Italy
Let’s face it, this is a bit tricky because there are just too many places to visit in Italy. If you have never been, you might want to visit major cities or popular areas. Some of the places to visit in Italy if it’s your first trip:
No need for an introduction here. Italy’s capital and an unmissable destination, there are so many things to do in Rome that even if you stay two weeks only here, you won’t run out of places to see. With something for everyone, in Rome, you can spend the whole day sightseeing and never have enough of it. If you are on a classic Italy tour for first-time visitors, you can easily book a Florence to Rome train to reach the capital in an hour and a half.
Explore its ancient ruins such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Baths of Caracalla, the main sights of the Christendom in the Vatican City, famous landmarks such as Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps in the historic center, quaint neighborhoods such as Trastevere, and trendy and former working-class districts filled with colorful murals such as Ostiense and Testaccio. Obviously, don’t forget to try some of Rome’s hearty traditional dishes.
The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is a must-see for everyone visiting Italy for the first time. Or even the second and the third. If you are into art and beauty, hardly any city can compete.
Start your Florence tour from the Santa Maria del Fiore complex and carry on to see landmarks such as Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery, Santa Maria Novella Basilica, Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Garden and more. All without forgetting to try the traditional dishes in the best Florence restaurants.
They call it the most romantic city in Italy. Whether you agree or not, Venice is a must-visit. Stroll around its canals and bridges, take a gondola ride, and try the local food. If you are traveling to Italy in winter, try to see Venice Carnival, it’s a beautiful parade of posing, camera-loving masks.
Some of the places to see in Venice are San Marco Piazza and Basilica, the Doge Palace, the Bridges of Sighs and of Rialto, the Jewish Quarter, and the nearby colorful island of Burano.
Milan is often the city where international flights land so you can easily make it the first leg of your itinerary. If you don’t have much time, you can see Milan in one day, while if you can afford a longer stay, you can explore more of its landmarks, nightlife, and restaurants.
Some of the places you should see, whether you stay one or two days in Milan, are the gorgeous Gothic-style Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Castello Sforzesco, and La Scala Opera House.
Naples and the Amalfi Coast
Famous all over the world for its landscape and dolce vita lifestyle, the Amalfi Coast, Costiera Amalfitana in Italian, never fails to impress. With places like Positano, Ravello and the same Amalfi, it attracts thousands of tourists every summer.
If you are in Campania, however, you shouldn’t miss its capital, Naples. Gorgeous and historical city, Naples is also the home town of the pizza and many other delicacies. If you are on a weight loss diet, here you will likely cheat on it.
From Naples, you can also take a day trip to see the spectacular ruins of Pompeii and the town of Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.
Always more famous and popular among tourists, the Cinque Terre of the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region is a great destination for hikers and sea lovers. Italian for Five Lands, the Cinque Terre are Vernazza, Monterosso Sul Mare, Riomaggiore, Corniglia, and Manarola.
They are picturesque towns on the Ligurian coast in La Spezia province. You can go from one to the next by hiking or by taking the frequent local train. You can either stay in one of the five towns overnight or make it a day trip from Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region.
The Alps and the Dolomites
If you like the mountain, some of the places you should visit are the Dolomites of Trentino Alto Adige or the Alps of Valle d’Aosta.
Your door to the Dolomites can be the cities of Trento and Bolzano, fantastic destinations to explore and where to spend a few days, or other towns in Trentino Alto Adige such as Bressanone and Merano.
You can reach the Dolomites also from the Veneto and Lombardy regions, while a great place to visit high peaks of the Alps is the scenic Valle d’Aosta region on the border with France. Here, you can hike and ski the gorgeous Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, Cervino and Gran Paradiso, apart from wandering its quaint towns such as Vens.
The Islands: Sardinia and Sicily
Are you coming in summer and want to hit the beaches? What better places than the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily? Both islands boast stunning coastline and beautiful beaches all around. It’s the summer holiday paradise for swimming, sunbathing and breathing some fresh air compared to the inland areas far from the sea.
Both Sicily and Sardinia are not known only for their beaches. There are many towns and villages to see if you are a fan of offbeat travel, such as Cabras, Pula, and Fordongianus in Sardinia, or Taormina and Ragusa in Sicily, to name a few.
What To Eat In Italy
With each region and each city boasting its own recipes, deciding what to eat in Italy really depends on where you are traveling to. From breakfast to lunch to dinner, you can experience the typical Italian dining style and try the most popular and traditional dishes in every area.
So if you are in Rome, enjoy your tonnarelli cacio e pepe, bucatini all’amatriciana or spaghetti alla carbonara. In Naples, try their delicious pizza, in Bologna tortellini or lasagna, in Turin, polenta or bagna cauda and in Florence meat-eaters will sure order the Fiorentina steak at least once in their trip.
Some of Italy’s most famous dishes?
- Pizza. No need for introduction here. You find it all over Italy and everywhere in different ways and shapes. The round on the plate mainly for dinner, except for tourist areas or some exception restaurants. By the slice with the most different toppings is pretty much all over Italy and it’s favorite street food.
- Pasta. This, too, in Italy is everywhere. Short, spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli, tortellini, fettuccine, you name it. Each region has its own shape, way to make it and sauce to season it.
- Stews. Made it using different types of meat from lamb to sheep to beef, and different herbs and seasoning. Also the stews you are likely to find them in every region. They mainly are a winter dish, but in tourist areas, you can find them also in summer.
- Pastries and sweets. Don’t even get me started here. From north to south, if you are on a diet when visiting Italy, you will have a hard time refusing a pastry at every occasion. Croissants, bombe, crostata, cakes, tiramisu, panna cotta, gelato, you name it. From breakfast to all throughout the day, you can close off every meal with a dessert.
- Soups. Made with veggies or meat, they sometimes are used as first courses or as a consommé to open the meal.
Shopping in Italy
Whether you are looking for gifts or for something for yourself to remember your trip by, there are plenty of things to buy in Italy.
While clothes and shoes might be too personal, some of the most favorite gifts to bring home to friends and family are a bottle of good wine, some jewelry, accessories like bags (ask for Pollini or Coccinelle), or a piece of local handicraft which can ceramic, glass, or textile.
Some nice and much-appreciated gifts certainly are to be found in the food department. You won’t get it wrong if you buy artisan chocolate, traditional pastries, good-quality Italian pasta, or a good pasta sauce.
Italy tour packages and city day tours
While our Italy travel guide gives you plenty of tools to organize a trip your own, if you want your holiday to be just relaxing and free from all the planning hassle, here are some tour companies and websites providing great expeditions and day trips.
G Adventures organize 2-week or 10-day tours to Italy striving to give an in-depth experience of the country and its society. With G Adventures, you can either book a classic tour to all the major destinations or some more location-specific trips.
With small group tours, Intrepid Travel promises “real-life experiences”. Their tours go from 14 to as little as 4 days and cover a different range of places and activities such as a retreat in Veneto, a trip to the south from Rome to the Amalfi Coast
Take Walks – Former Walks of Italy
Take Walks is one of my favorites, I took many tours with them and all delivered plenty. They don’t organize full packages around Italy but only day tours or themed tours lasting a few hours in different cities such as Rome, Florence, Venice, and more.
With Take Walks, you can join different types of tours, from cooking classes to day trips to cultural tours to the most important landmarks of a city.
Get Your Guide
Get Your Guide (GYG) is not exactly a tour company but a website where you can book a tour from many different companies and agencies. This is why you will find a huge variety of experiences as well as ticket sales and taxi transfers.
TourRadar is a little like GYG with the difference that they feature companies offering full-package tours so trips of 2 weeks, ten days, one week, or even a month.
Useful sentences when you travel in Italy
No Italy travel guide is complete without some useful expression you might need in Italy, especially in non-touristy areas. Here are some to remember:
- Buongiorno – Good morning
- Buonasera – Good evening
- Buonanotte – Goodnight
- Arrivederci – Goodbye
- Grazie – Thank you
- Sì/No – Yes/No
- Ciao – Hi
- Che ora è? – What time is it?
- Come stai? (informal)/Come sta? (formal) – How are you?
- Scusa/scusi/mi dispiace – I’m sorry
- Non lo so – I don’t know
- Permesso – Excuse me
Eating/At the restaurant
- Colazione – Breakfast
- Pranzo – Lunch
- Cena – Dinner
- Ristorante – Restaurant
- Forno, fornaio – Bakery
- Pasticceria – Pastry shop
- Sono vegetariano/vegano – I’m vegetarian/vegan
- Non mangio carne – I don’t eat meat
- Sono intollerante al glutine – I’m gluten-intolerant
- Sono allergico a X – I’m allergic to [whatever ingredient/food]
- Posso avere il menu per favore? – Can I have the menu, please?
- Posso avere il conto per favore? – Can I have the bill, please?
- Mancia – Tip
- Posso avere un bicchiere d’acqua per favore? – Can I have a glass of water, please?
- Liscia/Gasata – Still/Sparkling
- Dov’è il bagno? – Where is the toilet?
- Che strada devo prendere per raggiungere X? – How do I get to X?
- Dritto – Straight
- Destra – Right
- Sinistra – Left
- Macchina – Car
- Bici, bicicletta – Bike
- Treno – Train
- Aereo – Airplane
- Metro – Metro, subway
- Parcheggio – Parking lot
- Solo andata – Single ticket
- Andata e ritorno – Return ticket
- Dov’è il rifornitore di benzina più vicino? – Where is the closest petrol station?
- Dov’è la stazione ferroviaria/dei treni? – Where is the train station?
- Binario – Platform
- Dov’è la stazione degli autobus? – Where is the bus station?
- Questo treno/autobus ferma a X? – Does this train/bus stop at [your destination]?
- Biglietto – Ticket
- Bancomat – ATM
- Non funziona – It’s broken, it doesn’t work
- Polizia/Carabinieri – Police
- Parla inglese? – Can you speak English?
- Mi può aiutare per favore? – Can you help me, please?
- Albergo, hotel – Hotel
- Camera singola/Camera matrimoniale/Camera doppia con due letti – Single room/Double room/Twin room
- Bagaglio, valigia – Luggage, suitcase
- Contanti – Cash
- Bancomat – Debit card
- Carta di credito – Credit card
- Caro, costoso – Expensive
- Economico – Cheap
- Mercato, supermercato, negozio – Market, supermarket, shop
- Edicola – Newsagency, kiosk
- Vorrei, sto cercando – I would like, I’m looking for
- Quando costa? – How much is it?
- Ospedale – Hospital
- Pronto Soccorso – ER
- Farmacia – Pharmacy
- Febbre – Fever
- Vertigini – Dizziness
- Nausea, vomitare – Nausea, vomiting
- Diarrea – Diarrhea
- Dolore – Pain
- Ferita – Injury
- Infiammato – Inflamed/inflammation
- Bruciore di stomaco – Heartburn
- Gastroenterite – Stomach flu
- Medico, dottore – Doctor
- Pediatra – Pediatrician
- Dentista – Dentist
Important numbers to know in Italy
- Police: 113
- Carabinieri: 112
- Ambulance – Health emergency: 118
- Firefighters: 115
- Street assistance – ACI: 116
- Guardia di Finanza: 117
- Viaggiare informati – information on street traffic: 1518
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Rome-based travel writer, blogger and photographer.